Yes, I know: it should be a 48-star flag... The 115th A.A.A. Gun Battalion, 1943 to 1945

France (Part 3)

VIERVILLE

On 29 June the battalion left Cherbourg. It seemed almost like beating a retreat -- back down the peninsula by the same desolate, wreckage strewn route, through the same towns that reeked of death, across the same little bridge at Carentan that so many men had fought and died to take and to keep it became famous. The same eighty-eights were dropping spasmodically around it. Carentan had already changed hands several times since the Americans first took it; right now it was one of the most bitterly contested spots on the entire front with fierce hand-to-hand fighting raging in its outskirts. We continued our "retreat" back through Isigny, and this time we were not awe-stricken at the destruction; we realized how much more horrible it could have been. The convoy headed for the beach with our destination the vicinity of Vierville. The mission -- "Defense of the Beach and Beach Exits"

Somehow, this move had none of the expectancy, the excitement or the drama of the two previous moves. Perhaps it was due to the fact that we were heading for the rear area, perhaps it was because we felt slighted in being deployed thus when there must have been so many "hotter" spots we could have been used in. Perhaps if we ever had any illusions about war, they had died as illusions do. Perhaps we were already veterans and knew that the whole business was just a job, a miserable, hard, dirty, dangerous job.

"The men didn't care how hard they worked so long as they were shooting and could feel that they were accomplishing something. God knows we were thankful for the Air Corps, but it would have been nice to have more Kraut planes in the sky and not so damn many American and British."

The aerial superiority of the Allies has already been mentioned. Itwas undoubtedly a tremendous advantage Iooked upon from the over-all view point. But it did. make it difficult for AA. This superiority brought with it a certain tension caused by the possibility of shooting down our own planes. The Army had several measures to avert the tragedies that could arise from such a situation. Certain important areas of the combat zone were supposed to be clear of all friendly planes at least at night, and the defense of these areas was left exclusively to antiaircraft artillery. However, there was the omnipresent possibility that our own planes might have been crippled, lost or might be making an emergency flight for some reason through this area. There were AAAIS, IFF and Colors of the Day. AAAIS was an involved system of early warning working on the same basic principals as has been described in a previous article, but it was much less elaborate. All firing units were connected with observation units who broadcast all hostile plots and gave orders to "Hold Fire" when the Air Corps was making one of their unscheduled flights through areas where no friendly planes should have been making an unscheduled flight. Theoretically, this system should have warned the gun batteries of hostile planes approaching so they could pick them up with the radar. However, it seemed to work just the reverse. They warned us of friendly planes so we wouldn't shoot at them. Another device was IFF, a radio instrument in planes which produced a certain reaction on a like instrument on our radars. So far as we knew the Germans had no knowledge of this device. Then there were colors of the day -- if our guns engaged a friendly plane, the pilot shot certain colored flares for certain hours out of the plane, thus identifying himself. There was the psychological: we would like to have more action. The men didn't care how hard they worked so long as they were shooting and could feel that they were accomplishing something. God knows we were thankful for the Air Corps, but it would have been nice to have more Kraut planes in the sky and not so damn many American and British.

If we thought we would not do any shooting in this position, we were wrong. We did a lot of it and used our fifties much more than on our other missions. The planes would come in low for their bomb runs on the shipping off the beach and all hell would break loose from our machine guns and the Bofors of some automatic weapons outfits nearby. The positions afforded a perfect view of the "flamers" as they went screaming into the ocean, never even reaching their targets. Sometimes they would give up altogether trying to hit the ships and drop their bombs on our gun positions as "targets of opportunity". Other times gun positions were the primary targets and they dropped anti-personnel bombs or strafed the area, sometimes in broad daylight. Most of the men were well dug in, and no casualties resulted. There was one casualty while in the area: a man strolled out onto the beach and was seriously wounded when he stepped on an AP mine.

Things went along in this same dull pattern for two weeks. Oh, yes, the Residue (Kitchen, supply section, all the personnel which had been left in England) finally caught up with the battalion. This meant hot meals for one thing, and less work all around. We were glad to see them.

On 11 July Carentan began to be mentioned again. Americans and Germans were still locked in mortal combat in that area. As evidence of their tenacity in this section they had been throwing quite a few planes at installations and supply routes in the area. The 115th left for Carentan on 12 July.

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leaves Cherbourg on the 29th of June, 1944, travelling back through Carentan to Vierville for the defense of the beach and beach exits. Now, after two weeks in combat on French soil the unit has matured: "Perhaps if we ever had any illusions about war, they had died as illusions do. Perhaps we were already veterans and knew that the whole business was just a job, a miserable, hard, dirty, dangerous job."

This page includes a discussion of AAAIS, IFF and Colors of the Day, systems intended to avoid friendly fire losses.
 
Updated Tuesday June 07, 2005 09:10:23 PDT
The original text of The Story of the 115th A.A.A. Gun Battalion, published by the unit in 1945, is in the public domain. So how, you may ask, can I claim that the contents of these web pages are protected by copyright?

The answer is that it is my own transcription of the text and images into electronic format, and compilation into these web pages that is copyrighted. In addition, the web design, art, and annotations, plus all material from my father's personal albums are copyrighted original works. I reserve all rights to how all these materials are used. You may not copy them or store them in any retrieval system without permission.